One Saturday morning, at age 15, I looked in the mirror and was horrified to see a huge, red pimple on my forehead. To a teenager that is a major crisis, especially when half a tube of Clearasil only makes it look worse. Who would have predicted that this zit would teach me a life lesson?

Silly now that I look back on this incident, but at the time I was consumed with shame. I even canceled my weekend plans because I didn't want to be seen in public.

So you can imagine my rage when my sister snapped a photo, preserving this ugly image forever. (Lucky for her, she could run faster than me.) And, to add insult to injury, my mother lovingly placed the picture in the family album!

But it turned out that this was the best thing she could have done. During a visit back home 12 years later I was looking through old family albums, and came across "THE photograph," which I recognized instantly from the orange dress I had been wearing (and which I never wore again.) Bravely I mustered up the courage to examine the photo, and to relive the humiliation of that abominable zit.

You've probably guessed by now that I had to search pretty hard to see the blemish on my face in the picture. If I looked very closely, I could detect a small speck on my forehead. It certainly didn't cover my face as I had recalled that it did.

That photo sure put things in focus for me -- and not just in terms of zits.

I instantly realized that by fixating on a single, minor blemish, I had become a self-pitying recluse. For a couple of days I had lost all objectivity, allowing this pimple to take over my life, magnifying its negative impact.

This is precisely what your “inner brat” does. In its immature, self-absorbed way it dwells on what's wrong in your life, distorting the negative way out of proportion.

It views all setbacks -- even minor inconveniences -- as catastrophes. Not only can your inner brat make you feel like a victim; it can also render you negative and pessimistic about life in general.

A negative attitude becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that sets you up for future failures and disappointments. Your inner brat convinces you that you might as well not put forth much effort because nothing ever works out anyway. And guess what? When you don't try, you don't experience success.

Most pessimistic people don't realize that they can change their attitudes. It really is possible to train yourself to be more optimistic.

Optimists do not ignore problems. They just look at them differently, thinking in terms of opportunities rather than limitations. Also, research shows that optimistic people are less likely to be depressed, are more productive, and enjoy better health than their pessimistic counterparts. Even in war-torn countries, optimistic people have hope for the future.

Optimism is a major inner-brat-buster. When you think in terms of constructive possibilities, you are confident. You can withstand more adversity and stress. You look to the future with excitement rather than dread.

Here are some tips on increasing your level of hope and optimism:

1. Every night before going to sleep, write down three good things that happened that day. This may seem hokey, but research shows that people who do this on a regular basis sleep better and wake up in a better mood, ready to take on the day.

2. When you find yourself giving up hope of success, challenge your thoughts. Ask yourself, "What's the evidence that I will fail?" If you merely *believe* that you'll fail, that's not good enough. If you failed in the past at a similar task, figure out what caused that to happen, and change the factors over which you have some control.

3. Ask yourself, "What's the worst thing that can happen?" Then make a plan for this worst thing. As a result, you won't be more discouraged. In fact, you'll feel more hopeful and confident.

Author's Bio: 

Pauline Wallin, Ph.D. is a psychologist in Camp Hill, PA, and author of "Taming Your Inner Brat: A Guide for Transforming Self-defeating Behavior" (Beyond Words Publishing, 2001)

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